Preaching Articles

I had been preaching for more than two decades, and I should have been at the top of my game. The church I served ran up to 1,500 on Sunday mornings, and the live telecast of our services covered a fair portion of several states. Most of my colleagues thought I had it made, and if invitations to speak in other churches were any sign, they thought I could preach.

But I didn't think that.

My confidence was taking a beating as some of the leaders let me know repeatedly that my pulpit work was not up to their standards. Previous pastors carried the reputation of pulpit masters, something I never claimed for myself. To make matters worse, we had numerous vacancies on staff, and my sermon preparation was suffering because of a heavy load of pastoral ministry. But you do what you have to do. Most days, my goal was to keep my head above water. Every day without drowning became a good day.

That's when I got serious about praying for my preaching. Each night, I walked a four-mile route through my neighborhood and talked to the Father. My petitions dealt with the usual stuff—family needs, people I was concerned about and the church. Gradually, one prayer began to recur in my nightly pleadings.

"Lord," I prayed, "make me a preacher." Asking this felt so right, I never paused to analyze it. I prayed it again and again, over and over, for weeks.

I was in my fifth pastorate. I owned a couple of seminary degrees. I had read the classics on preaching and attended my share of sermon workshops. I was a veteran. But here I was in my mid-forties, crying out to heaven for help: "Lord, make me a preacher." I knew if my preaching improved, if the congregation felt better about the sermons, everything else would benefit. I knew that the sermon is a pastor's most effective contribution to the spiritual lives of his members. To do well there would ease the pressure in other areas. So I prayed.

Then one night, God answered. Without warning, in the quietness of a dark night on the city streets, God spoke within me: "What exactly do you mean by that?"

The question hit with such force that I laughed aloud and said, "What a great question. I wonder what I do mean!"

For the rest of my walk, I pondered God's probing of my too-general prayer. I knew I was not asking for public acclaim or to be on anyone's list of great preachers. I just wanted to be effective, to do well what God had called me to do.

Later that night, at home, I listed four specific requests and began to direct them toward the Father.

a. I never want to stand up to preach again without a good grasp of the Scripture. I'm tired of not being clear about the text in front of me.

b. I want the message from God to have a firm grasp on me, to grip my heart. I want to preach with genuine passion.

c. I want a good rapport with the congregation. I'm tired of that glazed-over look on the people's faces. I want to make contact with them, to communicate effectively.

d. I want to see lives changed. If the point of preaching is for the Word of God to make a difference in people, then it must be in order to ask the Father to grant me success in doing it.

That night, I learned something about my prayer life. For years, my prayers had been tainted by the curse of generality. It had been "bless this" and "help that" and "strengthen him" and "encourage her." One day, I noticed in Luke 18:35-43 this interchange between the Lord and blind Bartimaeus, whose plaintive cries of "Jesus, have mercy on me" had reached the ears of our Lord. Over and over, the beggar of Jericho called into the air for mercy, over the shushing and objections of locals who were embarrassed by his carryings-on.

"Bring him to me," Jesus said. When Bartimaeus stood before Him, our Lord said, "What do you want me to do for you?"

We moderns are tempted to rebuke the Lord for His callousness at this point. "Lord," we would say, "anyone can see what he needs. He's been begging for mercy. He needs his sight." But the question was whether Bartimaeus knew this. He could just as easily have asked for money, for a better begging site, for assistance, for a training program for the blind, or for a hundred other things.

The Lord simply asked the man to be specific in his prayer: "What do you want?"

"Lord," he said, "I want to receive my sight."

"Then do," said the Savior. And he did.

From that point on, I prayed these four requests in my nightly walks: a good grasp of Scripture, its firm grasp on me, good rapport with my listeners, and changed lives.

Soon I was without a pulpit and without a church. The conflict in the church I was serving escalated to the point that we brought in a mediator. He interviewed church leaders, watched videos of my preaching, and polled the congregation, then filed his report. "Joe is not a pulpit giant," he said, "but he is a pretty fair preacher." I was encouraged by that. Then he recommended I leave the church.

I agreed. I took a one-year leave of absence, and I waited by the phone. A few invitations for revivals and conferences came in during the year; however, none but the tiniest churches would consider me as a potential pastor. My confidence in my preaching was at an all-time low.

Not by coincidence, the church that called me as pastor a year later was also at an all-time low. It had suffered a disastrous split. Half its thousand members had left, and the remainder was burdened with a great load of debt. Our first five years together were not easy. Gradually, however, we began to see the Lord was up to something special. One day, I looked around and realized we had become a healthy church again, one that is a pure joy to serve.

That's when the other surprise appeared, one just for me. After attending a Saddleback conference on purpose-driven churches, we began sending response cards to church visitors. These notes trickled back into the church office, telling what our guests had noticed first, liked best, and appreciated least about their visit to our church. To my utter amazement, many were impressed by the preaching.

I still recall standing at my secretary's desk reading two cards that had arrived in the morning mail. Both expressed thanks for my sermons. "I am totally surprised," I mumbled.

She looked up from her work. "Pastor, everyone loves your preaching."

"I guess I didn't know it," I replied.

To be honest, I'm still not quite convinced. But I've decided that's all right. The object of my prayers was never that people would like my preaching. It wasn't even that I would like it. It was a prayer for effectiveness in doing what God called me to do.

Next year marks my fortieth anniversary in ministry, and I still feel inadequate about my preaching. Not only is that all right, I think it's the appropriate way to feel about a calling so far above the capacity of any of us mortals—to proclaim the riches of Christ in human tongue.

It forces me to pray for my preaching.

Dr. Joe McKeever is a preacher, cartoonist and the retired Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Currently he loves to serve as a speaker/pulpit fill for revivals, prayer conferences, deacon trainings, leadership banquets and other church events. Visit him and enjoy his insights on nearly 50 years of ministry at

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Talk about it...

Suresh Manoharan

commented on Jun 25, 2014

So practical and humbling...and so touching this inspirational article...I am still crying...

Joe Mckeever

commented on Jun 27, 2014

Thank you, precious brother.

Emmanuel Baptist

commented on Jun 25, 2014

I felt like you were telling my story. Thanks for such a great reminder of what preaching should be about and from where it should come.

Troy Styers

commented on Jun 25, 2014

Thanks for being honest in your sharing. You have certainly being a blessing to me and my ministry.

Pastor Laurence Edgar

commented on Jun 25, 2014

I truly enjoyed reading your Post Dr McKever. Understand how you felt. Been there, still am. My prayers are simply repetitive. Thank You Pastor.

Don Kirsch

commented on Jun 25, 2014

May I add a 5th prayer from the heart of Paul? 1 Corinthians 2:4 has become the cry of my heart from sermon preparation through presentation: "Lord, make my message and my preaching be not with wise and persuasive words but with a demonstration the Spirit's power. . ."

Michael Cooper

commented on Jun 25, 2014

Thanks for your transparency and genuine love for our Lord, and His people. Continued blessings upon you as you serve our Savior.

Minister Sanders

commented on Jun 25, 2014

Thank you Pastor Mckeever for this is an article that a lot of us in ministry can relate to.......

Bob Gosey

commented on Jun 25, 2014

Pastor Joe, the years that you were my pastor I was enthralled with your preaching. I always told Susan (my wife) that you gave me a place to hang my hat, and that from there you took me on a journey. I consider myself privileged to have been able to sit under your preaching. As I preach and prepare to preach today I still hear your voice teaching me and leading me closer to God. Thanks for the prayer points. I will be using them. In Christ, Pastor Bob

Joe Mckeever

commented on Jun 27, 2014

Thank you, Bob. How kind of you to say this. I thank God for you and Susan.

David Holland

commented on Jun 25, 2014

Joe - you are the man. I have felt that way for thirty I am going to pray more specifically for my preaching.

Minister Brenda Love

commented on Jun 26, 2014

Thank you for allowing yourself to remain humble, so that you could hear from God. You could have easily given up. It was just a test that we as Ministers and Pastors have to go through. I was truly blessed by your testimony.I am encouraged to stay in the presence of God and continue to glorify Him. Being specific will always assure you that, you are getting what is required of us from the Lord.You are so inspiring. Thank you....

Phil Wilkes

commented on Jun 26, 2014

Thank you for sharing from your heart and being transparent about your struggle. It is a great reminder for me as a pastor. God has also spoken through you to show me my need to be more intentional in prayer as I seek to serve Christ and be a servant to our church. May God bless you as you continue serving our Lord.

Danny Limon

commented on Jun 27, 2014

Thank you Joe, I am highly encouraged.

Danny Limon

commented on Jun 27, 2014

Thank you Joe, I am highly encouraged.

Rev, Leona Green

commented on Jun 27, 2014

Mr McKeever, Thank you for such sincerity, you almost moved me to tears , You are a blessing to many, God will continue to bless you richly.

Rev. Phil Dillard Sr

commented on Jun 30, 2014

Thank you for sharing , you answered a question to my prayers. Your testimony could be mine, I have served in the largest Baptist church to the some of the smallest and concern always in becoming a better effective preacher of the Gospel message. Your comments have help, thanks again.

E L Zacharias

commented on Jan 29, 2019

Joe, so true that Spirit-driven Scripture informs our prayer, our understanding of God, and therefore the effectiveness of our preaching. Scripture is God's answer! Be still and know that I am God. My words are delivered by my Spirit and it will accomplish what I desire, it will do what I intend for it to do. My own thought, always believe that there is someone that will be there to listen and benefit to God's Word. If others have become calloused, so be it. Be faithful to the text and steer away from your pet issues. God does his work through you. If you honor the word, God will honor you; for faithful speaking confesses Jesus, and confessing Jesus honors God. Thank you for your testimony to God's truth!

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